With Craig Breslow highly likely to start the 2014 season on the disabled list, a competition has erupted late in spring training to decide who will fill that last spot in the bullpen. The candidates currently consist of veteran non-roster invitees Francisco Cordero and Tommy Layne as well as prospects Brandon Workman and Drake Britton. All four pitchers offer a certain degree of upside in that final spot on the team, but the one candidate who fits that role best for both the present and the future is Drake Britton.
There’s a good possibility that if the Red Sox were looking to win now and only now, Brandon Workman would already be in that role and there wouldn’t even be a competition. As a 24-year old rookie last season, Workman was solid in his cup of coffee; he posted just a 4.97 ERA, but his peripherals were impressive as he had a 3.18 xFIP, 10.2 K/9, and 3.2 BB/9.
However, the Red Sox are not looking to win now and only now. They are looking to have a competitive 2014– no doubt about that– but not at the expense of future performance. And that’s why Brandon Workman is still on the bubble for a roster spot. The team still believes that Workman can develop into a mid-rotation major league starter, and therefore do not want to stunt his development by placing him in the Red Sox’ bullpen. Ideally, he would serve as the ace to the staff in Triple-A Pawtucket and be the first man up in the case of an injury to a Red Sox starting pitcher.
That’s where Drake Britton comes into play. Though he offers considerably less upside than Workman, he will likely never develop into more than a late-inning reliever and thus the Red Sox would not be stunting his development by placing him the major league bullpen. Britton saw some time in Boston towards the end of last season and was decent: posting a 3.86 ERA in addition to impressive peripherals in his 3.53 xFIP, 7.3 K/9, and 3.0 BB/9. In fact, Britton actually has the potential to be much better than that going forward as his performance was negatively affected by a .339 BABIP.
If used in appropriate situations, Britton could be a valuable arm in the Red Sox bullpen, being a left-hander that could go multiple innings similar to offseason acquisition Chris Capuano. The flexibility that his presence on the big league roster would give the Red Sox regarding Brandon Workman would be similarly valuable. Plus, he would offer much more upside going forward than Cordero or Layne. When considering all the options, Britton is the clear choice to take the job as the last reliever in Boston’s bullpen.